In the escalating battle of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to see who can offer the most free stuff, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has taken the extraordinary step of calling for having the government forgive student loan debt. This pander will not only be incredibly costly, but it will be a slap in the face to those who have already struggled to pay off their student loans without government assistance.
The political logic is understandable for Warren, who has been struggling to break through in polls. Like most other candidates, Warren has promised to deliver free college. But free college doesn’t do much for millennials, who make up a sizable portion of the Democratic electorate. They are already past college age, and mostly are not old enough to have kids nearing college. But what they do have is a mountain of student loan debt, so promising to cancel all of their debt would have a huge impact on their finances.
Right now, more than a third of millennials have student loan debt, and studies have shown that the debt is leading them to delay major life decisions including purchasing a house, saving for retirement, and even getting married and having kids. Total student loan debt is now at $1.6 trillion in the United States, making the money owed high than auto loans and credit card debt and trailing only mortgages in terms of the value of various forms of consumer credit. Unlike other forms of debt that are spread across the whole population, student loan debt is concentrated mostly among younger Americans.
What Warren is proposing is to offer debt cancellation of up to $50,000 to more than 42 million people, or 95% of those with debt. She says that will completely wipe out debt for 75% of borrowers with student loans.
Aside from the cost, which, like her child care proposal, she claims would be covered by her ultra-millionaires tax, the plan would be tremendously unfair to those who have been struggling for years to pay off their student loans.
It’s true, some people may simply earn too little to make a dent in student loans no matter how hard they work and no matter how much they reduce their expenses. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
There are those who may have taken higher-paying jobs they didn’t necessarily want to pay off loans. And there are those who have cut expenses to the bare bones to pay off loans while watching their friends with similar salaries eat out and travel and de-prioritize paying off loans. Those who were more responsible will feel justifiably enraged at the idea that those who may have been more profligate will now get a bailout from the government.
This is the worst sort of pander from an increasingly desperate politician.